No one would envy Suffolk County Council the task of balancing the books in times of austerity.
But can they justify why their proposals disproportionately affect the most vulnerable and poorest in our communities?
Their planned cuts predominately impact the young (the Duke of Edinburgh scheme and accredited youth support services), women and people working anti-social hours – the latter often low paid cleaners and vital support workers (street lighting), and homeless people (reduced hostel beds). The Citizens Advice network has expressed dismay about the impact on its 22,000 users.
Bus services are already sparse in isolated villages. Removing timetables suggests the council intends to stop them entirely.
The reduction to gritting will stop carers and supplies getting to the elderly and ill, and employees getting to their jobs.
Perhaps the only non-damaging proposal is to allow grass and weeds to flourish, which means fewer toxic pesticides and more insects and wildlife.
In fairness to the council, it is difficult to find any area which doesn’t affect people’s ability to find somewhere to sleep, their safety, mobility and health.
But the financial pressures, already significant, will not simply end this year; and Brexit will affect supplies of medicine and food, as well as jobs and transport. We urgently need to find alternative options which protect the most vulnerable.
For example, £17m is spent on waste services. Community composting, plus pressure on local shops and services to cut packaging, could free that money and help Suffolk become a zero waste county.
Trialling a Universal Basic Income within the county would tackle extreme financial poverty and mean fewer working hours and better distribution of jobs, with knock-on savings for transport and provision for homeless people.
More effectively, perhaps it’s time our council prioritised its civil duty and refused outright to make any further cuts. Unless it resists these budget reductions, the government is likely to continue to target the vulnerable, rather than the more resilient. A higher, universal living wage; a wealth tax on the top percent; and closing tax loopholes which benefit corporations – a fair economy is essential if we’re to avoid any more damage.
Published EADT 20.11.18
Author Libby Ruffle